Composting – How to Compost 101

Compost is the absolute best fertilizer or soil amendment you can use in an organic fruit and vegetable garden. It helps create loam from sandy/silty or clay soils, prevents soil from becoming too acidic or basic, and is an excellent source of the proper balance of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.

Compost consists mostly of decaying plant matter, and is made up of two types of materials that should be initially stacked in alternating layers:

Greens – rich in nitrogen, these include organic lawn clippings, organic garden waste, and organic kitchen scraps such as fruits and vegetables.

Browns – rich in carbon (necessary to the decomposing process), these include plain brown cardboard, fallen leaves, untreated wood shavings or sawdust, and straw.

Building a basic compost pile in your backyard is about as simple as it gets:

• Choose a patch of bare ground –out of the way of regular yard traffic and nearby but not right next to the garden patch.
• Spread a layer of Browns 4-6 inches deep over a roughly 3 X 3 foot square.
• Add an equally deep layer of Greens on top of the first layer. Sprinkle the top of the greens with either garden soil or purchased compost activator, such as this one from Espoma:

• Water the pile until it is damp like a sponge but not soggy.
• Continue layering and sprinkling until the pile is no less than 3 feet tall – anything shorter than that will not be enough to generate the necessary heat (140-160 F) to maintain the decomposing process.

Once you have built your pile, you need to tend it regularly in order to ensure that the decomposing process will work. Use your garden fork one or two times per week to stir it up, working the outer edges of the pile into the middle (“turning the compost”) each time, allowing oxygen to circulate. You will need to water the compost pile occasionally to keep it at the damp sponge moisture level. If a high internal temperature has been maintained throughout the decomposing process, you could have ready-to-use compost in as little as 4-6 weeks. The volume of your compost pile will have shrunk by two-thirds and appear crumbly and dark when it is finished – your very own, homegrown, black gold.

Stay tuned for a comprehensive list of what you should and should not put in your organic compost pile…and why.

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